In 2011, Nora McInerny’s boyfriend, Aaron, was found to have brain cancer. She married him. He died three years later. Within a six-week span, her father also died, and she had a miscarriage. At 31, she was a widow with a young son.
McInerny, a blogger in Minneapolis, wrote a memoir about that time, “It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too).” Now, in her follow-up memoir, “No Happy Endings,” she writes with admirable candor and engaging humor about getting through the worst times in her life and coming out on the other side.
“My husband and my father died just weeks after my miscarriage,” she writes. “My husband was thirty-five when brain cancer finally killed him, my father sixty-four when he died of cancer of the Everything. In the aftermath of these monumental losses, I’d written a book, established a nonprofit retail brand, and started a podcast.”
But life goes on. Eventually — somewhat to her own surprise — she found love again with Matthew, a divorced father of two children. They married and had a child together.
But that’s the ending. Before that came the moments that build into mountains of anxiety and depression.
“This is what life looks like when you water the seeds of joy with guilt and shame,” she says. “It feels as good as it sounds. When bad things happen to you — a death, an illness, a divorce, a job loss — you quickly go from being a person to being just a sad story.”
All her life, she says, she did what she thought she should: endured the pain of being a people pleaser, attended a good college, moved to New York City. When death shook each corner of her life, she went spinning off, trying on a nomadic lifestyle with her son while she beat herself up emotionally, spiritually and physically.
At first, her book can seem to fit in with the self-help genre, but it is more than that. It’s the very personal story of paddling through grief, adjusting to single motherhood, running away from pain, confronting the fear of failing, surfacing and then rising.
It’s a comforting read for those who have experienced losses, and an inspiring one for anyone looking to appreciate and see life from an exceptional angle. McInerny’s voice is disarming and her language is sincere. Often, her book reads like a compelling diary, a string of blunt confessions; “I am happy. And I’m really, really … sad.”
Now, at 35, she is done rushing. Her eloquent observations span subjects from casual sex to her feminist agenda to internet trolls, all the while pulling readers steadily through the beautiful chill of the Minnesota air under piercing blue skies.
Erin Lewenauer writes for Publisher’s Weekly, Rain Taxi and other publications. She lives in Milwaukee.
No Happy Endings
By: Nora McInerny.
Publisher: Dey Street Books, 269 pages, $26.99.
Events: Book launch, 2 p.m. March 24, Parkway Theater, Mpls. $35, tickets at theparkwaytheater.com; 8 p.m. March 30, Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, tickets $25-$35, etix.com